Results tagged ‘ Francisco Rodriguez ’

The Bob Wolcott Of 2011?

You remember Bob Wolcott, right?

One of the seminal figures in modern Post-Season history. A key to an exciting playoff series, a dramatic interjection into the–

No, huh?

Bob Wolcott made six indifferent starts for the 1995 Seattle Mariners. In the exhausting first-ever American League Division Series against the Yankees, he watched from the bullpen, an utter afterthought in a brilliant competition that marked the end of Don Mattingly’s last hope to reach a World Series. He was the last man on the staff, happy to be in the playoffs without having to buy a ticket.

And then Lou Piniella decided to give his overtaxed staff an extra day, and start him in Game One of the A.L. Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians. Frankly, nobody – least of all the Indians – knew what hit them. Wolcott pitched seven innings of eight-hit, five-K ball, gave up a homer to Albert Belle in the last frame, and left a 3-2 lead to the bullpen. Jeff Nelson and Norm Charlton hung on, and the Mariners had a 1-0 lead over the favored Indians. Not that they did anything: the Mariners’ rotation of Tim Belcher, Andy Benes, Chris Bosio, and Randy Johnson each lost a game and Wolcott never even got a second shot as a reliever. After a decent 1996 in the M’s rotation, he was dealt off, hurt his arm, went to college (Oregon State for mechanical engineering) and practices his craft in the northwest.

But the prospect of starting a mystery man against a team that had never seen him before – in the opening game of a playoff series – proved plausible. And in this case, Bob Wolcott was not the game’s top pitching prospect.

Matt Moore is. And Joe Maddon of Tampa Bay tonight decided to open him against the Texas Rangers in Game One of the ALDS. It is, to descend into the only appropriate vernacular, one of the ballsiest post-season managerial moves and Maddon will live or die by it – but why not? The other best option, Jeff Niemann, has been sharp lately after weeks of playing the role of the Rays’ Mr. Dynamite – the pitcher who gets into the box out in centerfield before the game and then gets blown up by the opposing team.

Moore has a shorter track record even than Bob Wolcott. He has just one Major League start, but in it, at Yankee Stadium, his heavy lefthanded fastball pulverized New York: eleven strikeouts and just four hits in five innings. He had come off a minor league season split between the Southern and International Leagues in which he finished just eight K’s short of leading all the minors in strikeouts – for the third consecutive season.

And not one Texas Ranger has ever crossed paths with him. Not in his brief stint in the majors, not in AAA, not in AA, nowhere. There is admittedly righthand power to be concerned with in the Texas lineup – Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre – but Moore only gave up eleven homers in 155 innings in the minors this year and if he just ties up Josh Hamilton, the Rangers could be stymied (ask last year’s Giants about that).

Remember what K-Rod did as a very, very late-season addition to the Angels’ roster in 2002? The Yankees had never seen him. The Twins had never seen him. The Giants had never seen him. Results? 18-2/3 post-season innings pitched, 28 strikeouts, and in eleven appearances: five wins and two holds – and Frankie Rodriguez wasn’t even the closer.

But Matt Moore is more than just a power pitcher. One of the most astute judges of pitchers I’ve ever known gushes about his composure, his tendency to greet trouble not with panic or fear but with anger, his ability to unintentionally elevate with the fastball so that the batter is eventually swinging at balls at his neck, and lastly a change-up that’s brilliant and that Moore is only beginning to understand the value of. “It has two-plane depth,” my guy explains. Two-plane depth, I ask, sweetly? “It moves through two planes: as in downward, and tailing to the left.”

Can you imagine what that does to a lefthanded hitter, especially one assuming a fastball at his letters? I’d retire immediately.

The advice to the Rangers from my eyewitness: “Swing at the first good heater you see.” The advice from him to Moore: “use the change-up… if I’m hunting fastballs— and the Rangers historically are— making them guess heater or change will set up the hammer, which is devastating.”

What exactly does Moore have to buy the Rays for this to work? A win – in Arlington – would be dandy. Six good innings – win or lose -in which they don’t have to run through the entire bullpen and they establish Moore as a new weapon in the arsenal that Texas might just have to face again in a Game Five, or Hamilton might have to face all by himself in any of the remaining games, would be a great second prize. Five innings that don’t devastate the bullpen is enough to keep Tampa alive until James Shields takes the mound in Game Two.

Maddon’s decision – and how many managers would have the cajones to do this – was enough to make me trash the prediction I made on the air tonight: a good, safe assumption that a gifted but no doubt exhausted Rays’ team could not hold a candle to the rested Rangers. I like this call on so many levels: I like Moore against them, I like Moore as a potential part of the rotation, I like Maddon saying to his team “we have a secret weapon.” Until tonight, the Rangers had been the beneficiary of the madness of the Wild Card race. Now they may have become its victim.

I also note my Matt Moore scout sums it up this way: “Matt is advanced and his stuff, though not pin-point, is better than (David) Price’s.”

I like Tampa in five, I like the Phillies possibly as quickly as three games (hats off to the Cardinals, but they are running on fumes here), and the Brewers, probably in five. And I particularly like the Tigers over the Yankees, quickly. Lost in the tumult of the Red Sox collapse and the Rays spectacular (you do realize that home run was Dan Johnson’s first major league hit since April 27th, right?) is the fact that after August 21st, the Yankees won just 20 of 37 games, and, after September 6th, the Yankees won 10 and lost 12. They didn’t win the American League East: the Red Sox fell past them like the meteor they keep telling us will some day crash to earth and kill us all (the usual caveat: if the Tigers or anybody else give the Yankees four outs an inning, the Yankees will win – they are vampires).

We’ll look at the Championship Series and the World Series after we see how Matt Moore does. But I gotta tell you: I also like those Brewers.

Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul
ball.

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my
mother.

3.
And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

ATLANTA is
the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

4.
Alejandro Pena, 1991-92

5. Jeff
Reardon, 1992

6. Mike
Stanton, 1993

7. Greg
McMichael, 1994-95

8. Brad
Clontz, 1995

9. Mark
Wohlers, 1995-98

10. Kerry
Ligtenberg, 1998

11. John
Rocker, 1999

12.
Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

13.
Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

19.
Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

25.
Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

27.
Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

If FLORIDA
could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing -
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

DIVISION PREDICTIONS:
I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.

Tillman1967.jpg

LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….

Some Mets Afraid Of Ghosts

I hate ghosts. They’re spooky. And I don’t respond well to spooky behavior.

                — Amy Poehler as “Maxine Walken,” Saturday Night Live, 2008



It is beyond tempting to give names to any of the three players involved, but as the New York Mets prepared for their road trip beginning in Milwaukee, those guys – and maybe more – are worried about ghosts.
The Mets are staying at the venerable Pfister Hotel and once again the 106-year old landmark has been cited as a place in which rooms might be booked by Supernatural Expedia. The local legend is that it’s one of the hotel’s founders, well-dressed and amiably, if somewhat transparently, still greeting guests from a perch on the 9th floor.
Cardinals’ infielder Brendan Ryan told a local television reporter that he sensed something from another world in his room at the Pfister: “It was more like a moving light that kind of passed through the room. It was very strange. The room got a little bit chillier. Strange things. Strange things.”
This is from a guy who has had to participate in the Bat-The-Pitcher-8th deal, so he knows his strange.
One non-believing Met has been egging on two of his teammates. One is a rookie who seems a little vulnerable to suggestion (and should really wonder if he isn’t being set-up for a Tim Hudson/Moe Drabowsky level of sophisticated practical joke while at the Pfister). The other is veteran whom the provocateur claims is seriously contemplating staying at another hotel and seems to have convinced himself he’d rather take his chances at Jack Nicholson’s place from The Shining.

Before you observe that the Mets should be more worried about trying to find the ghost of their offense, just in terms of the Pfister, there should be more practical concerns. The hotel was the scene of the most infamous fights in modern baseball history, which has twice been described to me with the phrase “Wild West Saloon Brawl.” The perpetrators were the 1974 Yankees, arriving in Milwaukee on September 30 for the end of the season with a slim chance to reclaim the lead in the A.L. East. Instead, backup catcher Rick Dempsey and backup utilityman Bill Sudakis, already jabbing on the plane, both tried to get through the Pfister’s revolving front door.
The breaking of the logjam at the door seemed to propel the two men into each other. The next thing that amazed on-lookers knew, furniture and players were flying around the lobby (the New York Times elegantly called it “brief but violent”). At least one vintage lamp was used like a javelin, and one version of the story has a chair being launched, either by Dempsey or Sudakis. Dempsey later told me that he knew if Sudakis, or somebody, didn’t stop him, he was going to kill Sudakis with his bare hands.
Unfortunately, the late Bobby Murcer decided he had to break it up with his bare hands. Murcer, a month away from being traded to the Giants for Bobby Bonds, also broke his pinky in the process and had to be scratched from the do-or-die game the next night. His replacement in rightfield, Lou Piniella, backed away from a tweener fly ball in the 7th, costing the Yankees the lead, in a game they would lose in extra innings – and in the process, be eliminated.
There should be at least a plaque in the Pfister about that. And if there really is a ghost, it should be of the 1974 Yankees’ post-season hopes.
YES, YOU WALK JETER TO PITCH TO MARIANO RIVERA, BUT:

As various announcers kept insisting with jaws agape that with runners at first and second, two out, Derek Jeter up, Mariano Rivera on deck, Yankees 3, Mets 2, top nine, that the Mets were insane to have Francisco Rodriguez pitch – even cautiously – to Jeter, two thoughts occurred to me:
1) What exactly would you do to K-Rod in the event Rivera got his bat on the ball and blooped a single somewhere, or worked out a bases-loaded walk (as he did)?, and…
2) Did anybody remember Joe Torre’s assessment of his outfield a few years back? That based on pure athleticism, his second most-gifted centerfielder would be Derek Jeter, and his first most-gifted centerfielder would be… Mariano Rivera?
EXTRAORDINARY IMAGE OF THE WEEK:

Jerry Manuel, whose obvious humanity earns him the respect and affection of virtually all who are privileged to know him, still can produce an occasional howler of a blooper.
On both Friday and Saturday, he insisted to the media that he was comfortable playing Ryan Church in center “because he’s played it in JFK.” We all assumed he meant RFK in Washington, because center at JFK Airport is around 18,000 square yards and has planes in it.

F-Rod?

Lost in the adventures of Luis Castillo at Yankee Stadium last Friday was the reality that even if Castillo had made a game-ending catch, Francisco Rodriguez would have begun tonight’s Mets game in Baltimore having recorded consecutive saves in which he had allowed two base runners and just escaped with his life.

Tonight he did not escape, and so K-Rod has, in four appearances, one Save, one other clean 9th, two combination Blown Saves/Losses, and one pre-game argument with a guy 35 pounds heavier than him. This is no more evidence that he’s hurt or in pitching distress, than the fact that somebody finally roughed up Trevor Hoffman suggests that Hoffman is in trouble.
But in the superheated atmosphere of New York, both questions will be raised about Frankie, especially in the context of the Mets’ bullpen troubles, which have endured for a decade and proved fatal the last two seasons. The more important issue, of course, is what exactly would the Mets do if there really was something wrong with Rodriguez? J.J. Putz is out, perhaps until September. Bobby Parnell is a rookie who has been more than challenged by merely the 8th Inning role. Sean Green has been strong for a month, and in ten save opportunities over four big league seasons, he has converted only one of them, and Pedro Feliciano is only four-for-twelve.
Minor league resources? The “Closer Of The Future,” Eddie Kunz, is working set-up at Buffalo, with major league journeyman Elmer Dessens finishing the games.
There are stories that Billy Wagner has found the Lourdes of baseball and expects to be pitching in big league games in 30 days. What kind of story would it be if the Mets really needed him?

Johan Santana Must Be Hurt (Updated With Quotes)

This does not come from Mets sources, and it does not come from ballpark speculation, and it certainly does not come from the player himself, but barring an extraordinary breakdown in the mechanics of the game’s most-mechanically sound pitcher, Johan Santana must be pitching with an imposing injury.

This thought had been in the back of my mind since a fired-up Santana virtually willed the Mets to a victory in Boston, then followed that with a six-walk game against Washington on May 27, and finally his four-homer victory over the Phillies last week. Having now gotten to see Santana from field level during his implosion this afternoon at Yankee Stadium, there is not only the loss of velocity suggested by the radar guns, but he also seemed to have a softer break on his breaking stuff, and he clearly had trouble keeping the ball down. Many of the Yankees’ nine hits would have been swinging strikes on Santana pitches in the dirt, if he was 100 percent. Hideki Matsui’s homer might as well have been hit off a tee.
The one flaw in Santana’s makeup is the gung-ho attitude that has otherwise contributed mightily to the making of a superstar. If you will remember, he just missed single-handedly forcing the Mets into the playoffs last year with one of the great pitching performances in Mets’ history, his shutout of the Marlins on the next-to-last-day of the regular season.
That was on Saturday. On Wednesday, Santana was being operated on to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He had been pitching through its pain for the last month of the season. He had come back from a 125-pitch performance to mesmerize the Marlins, and had done so on three days’ rest.
And all that time, he had been pitching while hurt.
If he’s doing it again, the Mets’ 15-0 loss at Yankee Stadium will have been the least of their problems.
UPDATE, 5:00 PM EDT: Post-game, Santana insisted he has no arm problems nor any other injury (“no, not at all.”). See if you can spot the phrase that might make Mets’ fans doubt him:
“It was a bad day, worst of my career. I’m fine, it’s not excuses or anything, it’s just that today was a tough day.” Was his velocity down? “No, not at all. I made a few mistakes locating my pitches and if you are not able to locate the ball around the plate, that’s what’s going to happen.” No injuries at all? “I had some soreness in my back about a month ago. We battled through it. I had a split nail on my finger. We battled through it.” No lingering effects from either of those small problems? “No, I’m fine. We battled through it. Not a dead arm, not even close.”
AND THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE GOES TO:

Jose Veras of the Yankees and Mike Pelfrey of the Mets seem to have gotten in between Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Bruney, just in time. Bruney’s remarks about K-Rod’s not-entirely-deserved “L” on Friday had inspired the Met closer to confront Bruney in the outfield during batting practice. K-Rod was giving away at least three inches and at least forty pounds to Bruney… Top Observation from the Mets’ on the new ballpark in the Bronx comes from veteran Mets’ media relations guru Jay Horwitz. Asked what he thought of the place, Jay said, with a tone of mild surprise, “It looks a lot like the old Yankee Stadium.” Told that that was the point, Jay didn’t miss a beat. “Oh, well, then they did a really good job”… whatever comes of Santana, the Mets continued to struggle defensively. Luis Castillo dropped a skydiver:
IMG_0749.JPG
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